No rookie quarterback has ever led his team to a Super Bowl, much less win one. But in just about every aspect, San Francisco second-year player Colin Kaepernick is a rookie.
The former Nevada dual-threat star, who set numerous NCAA records with the Wolf Pack, was considered somewhat of a reach when the 49ers took him in the second round of the 2011 draft. Yeah, Kaepernick could run as well as any college quarterback ever, but Nevada ran a gimmicky pistol offense – now en vogue in the NFL -- and Kaepernick’s passing accuracy was much in question (not any more).
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The former Cubs draft pick got into three games and attempted five total passes in mop-up duty in the 2011 season behind former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, who had a career year in leading the Niners to the NFC title game. San Francisco seemed set at the position with Smith, whose career had been rescued by new head coach Jim Harbaugh. All that changed when Smith went down with a concussion in a Nov. 11 game this season against the Rams. Kaepernick was good in relief of Wally Pipp – err, Smith – and started the following week on a Monday night against the Bears.
A legend was born.
Kaepernick torched the NFL’s top defense at the time and hasn’t looked back, making Harbaugh look like a genius for sticking with his inexperienced signal-caller even when Smith – who would have finished third in the NFL with his 104.1 rating – was healthy. Yes, the Harbaugh brothers and the finale of Ray Lewis’ career are the two biggest storylines for Super Bowl XLVII between San Francisco and Baltimore, but Kaepernick is a close third. This will be just his 10th career start, fewer than 2012 rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.
Kaepernick will be the sixth quarterback to start a Super Bowl after not starting any of his team's first five games of the same season. The last was Trent Dilfer in 2000, and he led the Ravens to their only Super Bowl, a win over the New York Giants. Of the previous five backups to start the Super Bowl, the only one to lose was Vince Ferragamo for the 1979 Rams.
Let’s take a look at some Kaepernick Super Bowl props from Bovada and my predictions.
He is the 7/4 MVP favorite. If you are wondering, one of those previous four backups to win the Super Bowl also took the MVP award: the Raiders’ Jim Plunkett in XV. San Francisco is 5-0 all-time in Super Bowls, and the Niners’ QB was the game MVP in four of them – not to say Kaepernick is Joe Montana or Steve Young. But if you think the Niners are going to win, it’s hard not to take Kaepernick. I personally would go elsewhere.
Kaepernick is 8/1 to score the first touchdown of the game and 4/1 to score San Francisco’s first touchdown (second-favorite behind Frank Gore). Realize that a passing touchdown doesn’t count. Kaepernick didn’t score last week against Atlanta, which geared up to stop him from running, but had rushing two touchdowns against Green Bay, including the Niners’ first. I don’t like him on either of these props as I believe it’s a passing score.
So far this postseason Kaepernick is 33-of-52 for 496 yards passing with three scores and one interception. He has rushed 18 times for 183 yards and two scores; Kaepernick set an NFL rushing record for QBs against the Packers but had just one designed run last week against the Falcons. The book lists his totals at 17.5 completions (both -115), 27.5 attempts (both -115), 232.5 passing yards (both -115), 1.5 touchdown passes (“under” -140 favorite) and .5 interceptions (“over” -140 favorite). On the total TDs prop, “one” is the +180 favorite with “four” or more the +1000 long shot. On the total interceptions prop, “none” is the +110 favorite with “four or more” a +1500 long shot. If you are wondering, the Super Bowl record for picks is five by the Raiders’ Rich Gannon in XXXVII against Tampa Bay.
There is no previous game against Baltimore to project for Kaepernick considering he didn’t take the field in last season’s Thanksgiving night game between the Niners and Ravens in Baltimore. The Ravens’ defense has faced three of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in these playoffs in Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Those three have combined to throw 898 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions. I think it’s fair to say those three are all better pure passers than Kaepernick, but that the 49ers have a better running game than the Colts, Broncos and Patriots. Thus, that could make Kaepernick more dangerous, and he clearly is the best running QB the Ravens have seen in the playoffs.
I see Kaepernick going 18-for-27 for 248 yards with one touchdown and one interception. That’s close to what a similar player, Griffin III, did against Baltimore on Dec. 9. The book also lists the QB at 7.5 rushing attempts for 50.5 yards. I love the unders there – the Ravens will mimic what the Falcons did, which worked for a half. Plus, Baltimore has a better pass rush, which will subtract from Kaepernick’s rushing total. But on value, I would take Kaepernick to get a rushing touchdown at +120 compared to -150 for no. The Niners will certainly run the read option at least a few times near the goal line, and Kaepernick will keep it once.
I always love historical comparisons, and Kaepernick is listed against Steve Young – the former Niner whom Kaepernick is most compared to – in San Francisco’s last Super Bowl. Young was named SB XXIX MVP when the 49ers crushed San Diego 49-26 in Miami. The Hall of Famer finished 24-of-36 passing for 325 yards and a Super Bowl-record six touchdowns with no interceptions. Young also rushed five times for 49 yards. Kaepernick is given +89.5 passing yards, “pick’em” on the rushing yards and pick’em on the longest rush of the game, with Young’s at 21. At my 248 yardage total projection, I would have to recommend Kaepernick on the passing yards. But I would take Young on the latter two.
Look for a Kaepernick-Joe Flacco comparison glance, among others, in Friday’s Flacco props story here at Doc’s Sports.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews